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A Civil War casualty
Civil War expert Brian Pohanka dies at 50.

Date published: 6/21/2005

A Civil War casualty

Historian Brian Pohanka will be missed

IN VIRGINIA, where four of the 10 deadliest battles of the Civil War were fought--three of them in the Fredericksburg area-- it is no surprise that interest in the war remains insatiable.

Brian Pohanka, who died at his Alexandria home last week of cancer at the age of 50, was one of the nation's leading authorities on the Civil War. In this capacity, he helped educate so many Americans who remain drawn to this epic struggle of a divided nation.

Mr. Pohanka, son of John Pohanka of automotive fame, was a man devoted to the study of key episodes of American history. His expertise extended to Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana, where he spent time each summer for the past 25 years, according to the remembrances of a friend.

But it was his knowledge of the Civil War that is Mr. Pohanka's greatest legacy. A student of the great conflict since the age of 7, he became one of the nation's leading authorities on the war and the chief researcher for Time-Life's 27-volume Civil War series. He worked as a consultant for movies like "Glory" and "Cold Mountain," helping to ensure their authenticity.

Like many Civil War buffs, Mr. Pohanka was a re-enactor. Serving as a captain in the 5th New York Infantry, he took the Civil War out of the history books and brought it to the battlefield, where the war's toll is vividly demonstrated a century and a half later.

A member of various historic and preservation boards, Mr. Pohanka was also active in efforts to resist development projects that encroached on battlefield sites. A Washington Post appreciation quoted Mr. Pohanka as he attended a demonstration in Culpeper County in 1990: "Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. He's going to go down there and be standing in a parking lot. I'm fighting for that kid."

Mr. Pohanka's death leaves a void in those Civil War skirmishes that continue today.